On September 12, 2017, the world lost a courageous and heroic pioneer when we lost Edith “Edie” Windsor.
Windsor, a Philadelphia native, was born in 1929 as the youngest of three to James and Celia Schlain, two Russian immigrants that migrated to the United States after losing their home and jobs during the Depression. In a 2013 interview with NPR, she accounted for being very popular with boys as a teenager and even though she first began to understand the concept of homosexuality while attending Temple University and admitted to falling in love with a woman she considered breaking off her engagement for, she ultimately decided to marry Saul Windsor shortly after graduation after realizing that she didn’t want to submit herself to the pressures of living life as a gay woman. However, they called it quits less than a year later when she asked him for a divorce due to her underlying desires of being with a woman.
“I told him the truth. I said, ‘Honey, you deserve a lot more. You deserve someone who thinks you’re the best because you are. And I need something else.” – Windsor to NPR
She packed her things and headed to New York City where she worked as a secretary while earning her Masters in Applied Mathematics from NYU. After graduating, she accepted an offer to work at IBM in 1958 where she continued to hide her homosexuality for 16 years. She felt as if she had to hide who she was as it was impossible to be gay during that time, but she finally decided enough was enough and asked a friend, “If you know where the lesbians are. Please take me,” and sure enough, when her friend took her to a restaurant in Greenwich Village called Portofino, Windsor met a clinical psychologist named Thea Spyer who swept her off her feet!
The couple started dating two years later and in 1967, Spyer proposed to Windsor with a circle pin adorned with diamonds knowing her current struggles with being out at IBM. Unfortunately, in 1977, Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and even though the couple dedicated their lives to each other, they still weren’t allowed to be officially married as same same-sex marriage had not been legalized yet in the state of New York. So, in 2007, after Spyer received a prognosis that gave her a year and a half to live, the couple decided to travel, although very difficult for Spyer, to Toronto where same-sex marriage was legal and recognized by the state of New York. However, in 2009, when Spyer passed away, the federal government refused to acknowledge the couple’s union based on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law passed in 1996, that disqualified them from any federal protections. Thus, Windsor was forced to pay a heavy $363,053 inheritance tax on Spyer’s estate.
In 2010, Windsor decided to sue the federal government for a refund of the estate taxes she had to pay and argued that the existing law subjects people in same-sex marriages to “differential treatment compared to other similarly situated couples without the justification of violation of the right to equal protection secured by the 5th amendment.” Two lower courts sided with Windsor stating the act of negligence was unconstitutional and when the case reached the US Supreme Court in 2013 on June 26th, Windsor gained worldwide prominence as they, too, agreed in a 5-4 decision that DOMA, which excluded roughly 1,100 couples like Windsor’s, unconstitutional. The decision in the United States v. Windsor case states that couples who resided in the 13 states, and the District of Columbia, that recognized same-sex marriage at that time were entitled to the same federal benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. It was that decision that led the way for the Supreme Court to decide in 2015 that marriage equality was a constitutional right and ALL states must recognize same-sex marriage.
TIME deemed Windsor as the “matriarch of the gay-rights movement” and she lived the rest of her life more than living up to that title. She is survived by her second wife that she met during her advocacy work post-decision, Judith Kasner-Windsor, a Wells Fargo Advisers Vice President who made her believe in falling in love again and ultimately married in October 2016. She lived a wonderful 88 years of life and will always be honored and appreciated.
“The world lost a tiny, but tough as nails fighter for freedom, justice, and equality. She will always be the light for the LGBTQ+ community which she loved so much and which loved her right back.” - Judith Kasner-Windsor, Wife
“Rest in peace Edith Windsor. We’ll be grateful to you for the rest of our lives.” - Andy Cohen, Talk Show & Radio Host
“In standing up for herself, Edie also stood up for millions of Americans and their rights. May she rest in peace.” - Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States
“The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. But sometimes it needs a good kick in the ass from people like Edie Windsor.” - Bill de Blasio, NYC Mayor
“We lost a hero today. Edith Windsor was an activist & pioneer, & her legacy will live on forever. Rest in Peace.” - LA LGBT Center
"America's long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what's right. Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor - and few made as big of a difference to America." - Barack H. Obama, 44th President of the United States